By Ray Downs
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Johnson says with his customary confidence, "Since I was little, you could say I've been the superstar on the team, in basketball, football, baseball. In high school, I don't think I got the respect that I deserved. Even with other people around, I think I deserved more -- for the way I worked, the things I've done, the road I took to get here.
"I already understand some of the things I need to do. They're the same things that got me where I am today. No one (in Memphis) is going to give anything to me. But if there's a position I want, I'll take it. I'm not used to being on someone's bench. I'll do anything it takes.
"When I was young, I took the ball to the playground and shot at night. I heard Glen Rice (of the LA Lakers) did it, and he's one of the best shooters around. I thought, 'I can do this, too. If that's what got him there, maybe it'll get me there, too.'"
With the example of Hughes in front of him, pro ball is something that's on Johnson's mind, and he truly believes it's a possibility. Askew has been talking to her son about his dreams of playing professionally in either sport. "I have to tell him it's a million-to-one chance," Askew says. "Every kid that leaves high school, there's a chance he's not going to make it. He makes good grades. He knows education is something he needs. (The pros) are something he fantasizes about. It's not one of the normals in life. He knows he has to study. He'll be OK with whatever he chooses. He's mature for his age. We've been really close. And he's a good kid."
A good kid with big dreams -- and a healthy dose of self-confidence.
"Unless you're 6-5, 6-6, or you have a certain pull, or you're a high-school all-American, you don't get the respect that you deserve," Johnson says. "I know the player I am. People in St. Louis -- maybe after that last game, now they know who I am, too."
A few days after the state final, in which DeSmet outlasted Vashon 70-64, the differences between Johnson and Hogue were as apparent in conversation as on the court. Johnson was still stung by the loss to "the V" in the quarterfinal ("I took it hard, real hard"); Hogue, though not happy about the loss, had already begun to shed his worries over the outcome.
Hogue, in general, proved a ready interview. During the end of the season, he seemed to almost enjoy the Q&A process, coming up and asking, "Do you have anything for me?" It's obvious that the coaching staff at CBC has worked to make its team media-friendly, and all the front-line players speak with a casual, conversational tone. They'll be fully prepared for the increased demands on their time in college.
Despite his ease with the media, Hogue's interests off the court reflect those of any American teenager. He lists his hobbies as "just watching TV, talking on the phone with girls, going to movies. I hang out with friends and try to stay out of trouble. Nothing other than that. On the weekends, all I do is play basketball -- pickup games in the park, at the YMCA."
As for college, he plans to major in business. "I like computers," he explains. "My parents, they're in business, and they seem to have fun with what they do. I figure it's something I'd like to do, too."
If/when he does sign with a team out of the area, it will be an adjustment, for more than just him. His family was a constant presence at games, including his younger sisters, who only missed the longer road trips. They enjoyed the atmosphere as much as anyone, especially Erica, who routinely played with Tamarr Maclin's kid sister, running up and down the steps and on the court at gyms all across the area.
"They love going," Hogue says.
Johnson's family also made the games. Growing up with brothers a decade older than him, he learned early on how to compete against older, better players. They were clearly an influence in shaping his work ethic.
Asked what he does outside the gym, Johnson doesn't mention the usual fare. His focus seems to remain on sports: "I've been lifting weights, running a lot. I've got to get a lot stronger to play in college."
The serious-minded Johnson gives good interview, too, but the most heartfelt he gets is when talking about his team. Because he attends an all-boys school, he says, "I guess you could say that guys become closer friends."
Repeating a familiar coaching-staff mantra, Johnson says, "The team's like a family. Ryan (Sapp) and Mike (Van Hee) are my brothers, just like Tamarr, Ryan (Woods) and Larry (Jones) are my brothers."
Johnson's "brothers" on the team are both black and white, indicating a healthy color-blindness on the CBC squad. The team's integrated lineup, however, has caused some to question the motives of the coaching staff, with critics accusing CBC -- a private Catholic prep school -- of recruiting black players, which is strictly forbidden in high-school athletics. CBC is the only school in the Metro Catholic Conference to feature more than one or two black players, who come to the school from both the city and the county.